The India tour of Ireland, England and Scotland started in dramatic fashion at Lords in 2007. The visiting team would have gone down 0-1 in the Test series, had it not been for a gallant effort in the second innings by M.S. Dhoni. India managed to save the match by one wicket. The second Test started on 27 July 2007 at Trent Bridge. I happened to be in England to attend a conference at my university. As luck would have it, the match timing coincided with the workshop organised by the Department of Statistics, University of Leeds. But I had a few days off to be able to attend the match.
England batted first and Zaheer Khan led from the front. His first victim was the capable English opener, Andrew Strauss. Zaheer’s first ball to Strauss was a half volley that the left hander patted back in the mid-off region for a boundary. The next delivery was over-pitched and seemed much like the earlier one. But it moved away at the last moment and took the outside edge of the bat of Strauss, and Tendulkar did the rest in slips. Zaheer’s next victim was England captain Michael Vaughan whom he had caught again by Tendulkar at second slip. It was a delivery just outside the off stump and the England captain was forced to play at it. His third wicket came with a beauty of a ball that was a near-yorker and had Ian Bell plumb in front of the wicket. Zaheer’s spell meant England ended with less than 200 in the first innings.
India’s first innings batting display saw the entire team chipping-in, a team effort. Five of India’s top six batsmen got half-centuries and the team total was 481.
But a strange incident happened during the innings with Zaheer Khan while he was at the crease. When he walked-in to bat, he found that there were jelly beans thrown on the wicket. Zaheer removed the beans in the presence of the umpire but things became bizarre when the beans were thrown again. Zaheer was convinced that it was done to distract him during his batting. It was the slip cordon that was throwing the beans on the wicket. Zaheer had an altercation with Kevin Peterson who denied having any hand. In the end, it was found that it was Ian Bell who had thrown the beans on the wicket.
Zaheer Khan was not amused when it happened the second time. It was believed that Pietersen and Cook were the culprits this time. In any case, Zaheer was not a happy man. He felt that it was not a prank but a deliberate attempt by the English to have a go at him. There was a lot of verbal exchange between Zaheer and the English fielders.
But Zaheer’s reply in the second innings was telling.
The first to depart was Alistair Cook who got a straight delivery that rammed into his pads to have him leg before wicket. Zaheer’s next wicket was Strauss — caught behind to an away-swinging wide delivery. His third dismissal made a mockery of Michael Vaughan. The ball struck his pads and then, somehow rolled over to hit the stumps. The most amazing wicket was that of Ian bell. The man who had thrown the jelly beans lasted only two deliveries. Zaheer had him plumb before the wicket. It was poetic justice.
It’s been 15 years to that day, but Zaheer’s celebration after Bell’s dismissal is still etched in my memory. As his team mates chased him to celebrate the dismissal, Zaheer ran half the length of the ground in joy. None of his team mates could catch him. The pacer took nine wickets and the English batsmen did not have a clue about which way the ball was swinging. Sitting in the stands, it was all happening too quickly for me to even express my joy at that time.
Watching cricket over the years had made me a ‘neutral’ — even when my country played. But that day, something rare happened for India. A left-arm fast bowler helped the team win not just the match but the series too—away from home, in England.
Over the years, one had seen Pakistani left-handed bowlers Salim Jaffer, Azeem Hafeez and the great Wasim Akram do wonderful things for their team. But for an Indian left-arm fast bowler to do something what Zaheer Khan did in that series, gave me immense satisfaction. Left-arm fast bowlers are a rare breed, especially in India. Zaheer Khan was the best left-arm fast bowler India ever produced. He had a beautiful rhythm to the wicket, which culminated in a lovely hop at the crease at the time of release.
Zaheer Khan bagged more than 300 Test wickets in his career. He was India’s equivalent to the great left-arm bowlers from Pakistan. Zaheer was lethal with the new ball as he could swing it both ways and was also effective with his reverse swing off the old ball. He was penetrative on the subcontinent pitches and could bowl in long and short spells. Most importantly, Zaheer was a beautiful bowler to watch, and acquired tremendous skill as his career progressed. Mid-way during his career, he shortened his run up but broadened his bowling skills. It was an honour to be present at Trent Bridge, Nottingham and watch Zaheer bowl. Even though the English fast bowlers were bowling in their own backyard, they could not match the skills of Zaheer Khan. Zaheer ensured that the jelly beans turned bitter for the English cricket team.
Kush Singh @singhkb is the founder of The Cricket Curry Tour Company. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)